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Marriott has room at the inn … for more Bibles

This Feb. 1, 2010 photo, shows the Westin Philadelphia hotel in Philadelphia. Marriott International, which bought Starwood two years ago, has begun putting copies of the Bible and the Book of Mormon in Sheratons, Westins and other hotels in the Starwood family. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)
This Feb. 1, 2010 photo, shows the Westin Philadelphia hotel in Philadelphia. Marriott International, which bought Starwood two years ago, has begun putting copies of the Bible and the Book of Mormon in Sheratons, Westins and other hotels in the Starwood family. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)
By Rachel Siegel Washington Post

The world’s largest hotelier has all you need to stay and pray.

Marriott has long supplied its hotel rooms with copies of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Now it’s reportedly filling at least 300,000 Starwood hotels rooms – which came under the Marriott umbrella two years ago – with the religious texts. The move falls in line with the Marriott family’s ties to the Mormon church, but goes against broader industry trends as hotels cater to younger, less-religious customers.

The hotel chain has stocked its rooms with the Bible and the Book of Mormon since opening its first hotel in the 1950s, the AP reported. Unlike other companies that may have religious materials available for guests upon request, Marriott requires its franchisees and properties to make the texts available inside each room.

“There are many guests who are not digitally connected who appreciate having one or both of these books available. It’s a tradition appreciated by many, objected to by few,” Marriott said in a statement to the AP.

As of early Monday afternoon, Marriott had not returned a request for comment by the Post.

Marriott International took over Starwood two years ago in a $13.6 billion deal that solidified Marriott’s ranking as the world’s largest hotelier. The deal meant Marriott operated 1.1 million rooms around the world and generated nearly $20 billion in annual revenue.

The deal brought 30 brands – including Starwood’s St. Regis, Sheraton and W Hotels – under the Marriott umbrella. The Starwood brand was expected to boost Marriott’s international presence, rewards programs and popularity among younger travelers.

Hotels have provided Bibles in hotel rooms since the late 19th century. The practice was boosted when three traveling businessmen set out to spread the Gospel one hotel room at a time. The men founded Gideons International in 1899 and have distributed more than 2 billion Bibles and New Testaments.

Gideons International supplies Marriott with the Bibles for free, the AP reported.

More recently, hotels in the U.S. have gradually moved away from placing religious materials inside rooms, according to a 2016 survey from the data and analytics firm STR. In 2006, 95 percent of hotels provided religious texts in their rooms. Ten years later, only 79 percent did.

The practice also varies by hotel type. According to STR, 57 percent of luxury hotels put religious materials in their rooms in 2016. That’s compared to 89 percent of economy hotels and 80 percent of budget hotels.

Hyatt has no “brand standard” requiring religious texts in guest rooms, the company said. Hilton also has no company-wide mandate, the hotel chain said, and individual decisions on whether religious materials are provided in rooms is up to each property. IHG, whose brands include Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, said its franchisees are independently owned and operated and can offer Bibles to guests if they choose, the company said.

Marriott is one of the few international hotel chains of its size to provide religious materials in its hotel rooms “by default,” said Mark Meng, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management at Indiana University Kokomo. Given Marriott’s dominance across the globe, Meng said the chain would be hard pressed to include the texts in all parts of the world out of respect for various religions and cultures.

Meng said that many hotel chains have stopped placing holy books in rooms – unless customers specifically ask for them – to target millennials who are less likely to be religious compared to older generations. Meng noted that Marriott recently backed away from providing religious materials at some of its hotels, including within its Moxy and Edition Hotel brands that cater to younger travelers.

Hotels “are targeting millennials, and they understand their demand and preferences,” Meng said.

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